The reusables area at the Wellesley Recycling & Disposal Facility has reopened for the season and is in full swing, for good and bad.
Residents are scooping up bargain toys, sports gear, and furniture, while resellers are swooping in to snag bikes and other donations before they hit the shelves. Some argue that those donating shouldn’t care who’s taking their stuff, as long as it’s staying out of landfills, while others counter that such profiteering isn’t in the spirit of the area. Still others recommend avoiding the whole scene and just making the donations and exchanges via online groups like Wellesley Give and Take.
Resident Lara Crawford spoke up at the start of the May 12 Wellesley Board of Public Works meeting to air concerns about “how absolutely icky the give-and-take is these days,” citing regulars at the space who grab stuff from donors before they can even get them it out of their vehicles. The Board took up the matter for discussion during its June 7 meeting (see Wellesley Media recording), and during that session, Jaden Crawford shared an anecdote about neighbors who say they sometimes dump items in the bulky waste disposal area rather than “run that gauntlet” at the resusables section.
Department of Public Works Director David Cohen said the issues raised at the earlier meeting weren’t necessarily new, but did prompt a fresh discussion. “The reusables area has been a struggle over the years,” he acknowledged.
The reusables area was closed in the early 2000s due to budget cuts, at a time when DPW staffed the area. A “huge groundswell of support” to reopen the area followed, with Friends of Recycling volunteers crowding the boardroom and convinced the board to reopen the area with volunteers handling the bulk of the work. Volunteers are required to go through orientation and digest a packet of information, but there have been complaints over the years of bad behavior by volunteers and others, even while so many volunteers devote large chunks of time to making the operation run as smoothly as they can.
“What we found over the ensuing years is that an area that’s entirely run by volunteers an be very challenging,” Cohen said.
After closing the area during the start of the pandemic, the DPW reopened it under a limited schedule and with some staff support to help monitor the area and be available as a resource. The DPW doesn’t look for volunteers to handle enforcement. That seemed to help, Cohen said, but the DPW hasn’t been able to staff the area since. Meanwhile, the number of regular volunteers has dropped from close to 20 to just 10. That’s led to a reduction of hours.
That brings us to today, and the DPW is renewing efforts to find a more efficient way to run the area and “provide a more pleasant experience for folks,” Cohen said.
Among steps taken are painting at the area to help delineate the drop-off area, and renewing efforts to hire a staff member to monitor the reusables space. The hire would observe challenges faced in the area to help the DPW develop a proposal for new ways to operate there.
“I’ve had it in my mind that for it to be successful it really has to be staffed and the town needs to support it to that level, and that’s a budget issue,” Cohen said.
Board of Public Works Secretary Ellen Korpi says she’s been impressed with a local give-and-take group on Facebook, both in terms of volume of items exchanged, and the quality of it. Part of the overall solution for reusables should be looking online, she said. (Those less enthusiastic about the online method might feel uncomfortable arranging a meeting place, feel like there’s less overhead in just dumping off a vehicle full of stuff at the RDF, or just plain want a break from being online.)
As for items at the RDF, she’d like to see whoever is hired at the reusables play a role in curating the items accepted, to ensure that things like broken bicycle helmets don’t make the cut.
Cohen said one thing his team has discussed is breaking up the “front-of-house business and back-of-house business…the dropoff and collection are two separate things. If you think about Salvation Army or Savers, you don’t have that mixing. The best practice would be to separate, but we’re constrained by our space.”
No promises, Cohen said, but the the town’s Facilities Management Department has some capital plans in the works that would include building improvements, including at the RDF. Whether an improved reusables space could fit into that remains to be seen.